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Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Dieffenbachia (J. F. Dieffenbach, a German botanist, 1794-1847) Araceae. Popular hothouse plants, grown for their handsome and striking foliage.

Low, shrubby perennials: sts. rather thick, inclined or creeping at the base, then erect, with a leafy top: petioles half-cylindrical, sheathed to above the middle, long, cylindrical at the apex; blade oblong, with a thick midrib at the base; veins very numerous, the first and second parallel, ascending, curving upward at their ends: peduncle shorter than the lvs. Differs from Aglaonema in floral characters. Cent. and S. Amer.—

Perhaps a dozen species. Engler (in Engler & Prantl, 1889) recognizes many species, with many varieties.

For dieffenbachias, similar rooting material to that mentioned for anthuriums, combined with a high and moist atmosphere, will produce a very healthy and luxuriant growth of foliage, especially after the plants have made their first few leaves in ordinary light potting soil. Unless it be the very large-leaved kinds, like D. triumphans, D. nobilis and D. Baumannii, three or four plants may be placed together in large pots, keeping the balls near the surface in potting. D. Jenmanii, D. Shuttleworthiana, D. Leopoldii and D. eburnea are all well suited for massing together in large pots. When above a certain height, varying in different species, the plants come to have fewer leaves, and those that remain are small; they should then be topped, retaining a considerable piece of the stem, and placed in the sand-bed, where they will throw out thick roots in a week or two. The remaining part of the stems should then be cut up into pieces 2 or 3 inches long, dried for a day or so, and then put into boxes of sand, when, if kept warm and only slightly moist, every piece will send out a shoot, and from the base of this shoot roots will be produced. These can be potted up as soon as roots have formed. (G. W. Oliver.)

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.

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Dieffenbachia bowmannii
Dieffenbachia bowmannii
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Family: Araceae
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Dieffenbachia is a genus of tropical plants in the Family Araceae noted for their patterned leaves. Members of this genus are popular as houseplants because of their tolerance to shade. The Dieffenbachia is often referred to as the "King of Plants".

The cells of the Dieffenbachia plant contain needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals called raphides. If a leaf is chewed, these crystals cause a burning sensation in the mouth and throat; swelling can occur along with a temporary inability to speak, and from this effect the plants are commonly called dumb cane (other names include Galatea and Leopard Lily). Chewing could result in death if swelling of the throat blocks the airway. Slaves were supposedly sometimes punished by having dieffenbachia put into their mouths [1]. Young children (at the age where they regularly put things into their mouths) are at risk of suffocation and death if they eat or chew on Dieffenbachia leaves. Some cats eat houseplants and flowers; they are similarly at risk.

Favorable conditions for houseplants

Dieffenbachia plants can grow outdoors in tropical climates, but specimens kept as houseplants must be kept indoors during most of the year outside the tropics. Temperatures below about 5˚C (40˚F) can kill the plant. The plant needs light but filtered sunlight through a window is usually sufficient. When the plant is brought home from the nursery, it will likely need repotting. The plant needs moderately moist soil. The soil should be fertilized with either regular liquid fertilizing or fertilizer pellets or spikes. Leaves will periodically roll up and fall off to make way for new leaves. Yellowing of the leaves is generally a sign of poor conditions, such as a nutrient deficiency in the soil.

Selected species


  1. "Outbreak of Food-borne Illness Associated with Plant Material Containing Raphides". Clinical Toxicology (Taylor & Francis) 43: 17-21. 2005. doi:10.1081/CLT-44721. 


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